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Children's health

20th Feb 2024

The signs of scabies to beware of as cases triple in one year

Jody Coffey

The thought of scabies can create an imaginary itch and likely one we would rather avoid thinking about

It is important to be aware of the signs of scabies as outbreaks have tripled in the last year.

Given this worrying update, we should all know what signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for, as scabies are not selective about where they make a home.

Irish Pharmacist, Sheena Mitchell, owner of totalhealth pharmacy in Milltown and the health platform, has provided a wealth of information on the topic in the hopes that parents can be prepared and know what to watch out for.

Scabies outbreaks are not exclusive to Ireland, but there has been a notable increase in cases here.

In 2022, Ireland had nine outbreaks of scabies. In 2023, there were 27 outbreaks.

Sheena, however, believes that this number does not reflect the reality, estimating there were a lot more than 27, as the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) does not collate data on individual cases.

Scabies stigma

Scabies are tiny insects called mites, which get under the skin and lay eggs. They are smaller than a pinhead, making them invisible to the naked eye.

Unfortunately, when there is any stigma attached to a health condition, people are slower to access treatment for it.

However, scabies, contrary to popular belief, are not associated with bad hygiene.

How are scabies transmitted?

Scabies are highly contagious and anyone at any age can get them.

Once one person in a household gets scabies, all members should be treated as soon as possible.

Ignoring the problem will not make the issues disappear.

A person with scabies may have them for up to six weeks before they notice any symptoms.

They are transmitted through any skin-to-skin contact, and they can be passed among adults during sex too, meaning they can also affect the genital area.

If a person suspects that they may have genital scabies, they should have routine STI tests.

Scabies can also live outside the body for 72 hours, which means they can also be passed from person to person by sharing clothing, towels, or bedsheets.

Symptoms of scabies

While scabies aren’t usually a serious condition, their symptoms can be quite irritating and aggravating, especially at night.

People with the condition will suffer intense itching, which gets worse during nighttime, leading to disrupted sleep.

They may also get a raised rash or spots (often starting between the fingers), which can be felt on the skin.

Scabies rashes can be found on the inside of elbows, under your arms, on the feet or ankles, or the stomach.

Burrow or track marks (very thin and appearing silvery in colour) between the spots on the skin may also be visible to the host.

One thing that is always consistent with the rash is that it is extremely itchy, which can feel worse at night or after taking a warm shower.

It is usually this intense itching that sets scabies apart from other conditions.


If you suspect someone in your household has scabies, you can visit your GP or your community pharmacist.

Sheena explains that the first line standard treatment is Lyclear Dermal Cream (this does not treat headlice).

The important thing to keep in mind is that all those infected should be treated at the time to avoid reinfection.

Sheena explains that Lyclear Dermal Cream needs to be applied to the whole body from the ears down, including and especially in between fingers and in skin creases like the wrists, buttocks, elbows, and even under and around fingers and toenails.

Because the cream needs to be in contact with the skin for 12 hours, applying it at nighttime is recommended. She urged people to avoid applying Lyclear cream straight after a hot bath.

This product is also safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as long as mum washes it off the breast area before each feed and reapply after.

The next step is to remove and wash all bedding and clothing at a high temperature to destroy mites.

Any items that cannot be washed at a high temperature should be washed and then sealed in a plastic bag for a minimum of 72 hours.

“For things like teddies that might have been in your kid’s bed, it’s a good idea to pop them in a plastic bag and pop them in the freezer,” Sheena explains.

“It can also work well for shoes, coats, hats, soft toys, that kind of thing.”

What if symptoms persist after treatment?

Itching may persist after treatment, but if after four weeks this symptom is still there or new track marks appear, Sheena recommends speaking to your GP or care provider.

She also suggests speaking to your GP if you can’t find Lyclear Dermal Cream to treat any suspected scabies, as they might recommend an oral treatment.